Brian Matthews on the Marketing Challenges Facing Today's Libraries

J. Michael Jeffers: Brian, you are working on a new book for ALA Editions that you are tentatively calling “Library DNA: Twenty Essential Qualities of an Inspiring Library.” Where are you going with this book?

Brian Matthews: Some people think we’re in the information business. Others insist we’re in the service business. For years I’ve been saying we’re in the “inspiration” business. This book gives me a chance to explain that a bit more. By stepping away from the components, from all the details like collections, computers, service points and instead diving into the heart of the matter—into what happens when patrons interact with their library—that’s what I am exploring.

I’m using the DNA framework to communicate the core experiences that libraries facilitate. To me this book is about the emotions of libraries viewed at a molecule level.

JMJ: What is going on in academic libraries today that are reflected in your writing, both the book and your columns for American Libraries?
BM: The keyword I keep hearing over and over again is VALUE. How do we express our value to our users and our stakeholders? Obviously the funding situation is leading this, as we have to work to describe why libraries are vital today as ever before.

Collaboration is another big thing. Obviously this isn’t new by any means, but there is definitely an emerging interdependence. I’m seeing this especially close-up here with the University of California, as we talk about digital collections and shared services. I’ve seen it with my column interviews as well—how libraries are partnering with everyone they can.

JMJ: Is there any particular technology trend or change that is having the most effect, positive or otherwise, on the way college libraries are run?
BM: This has been the year of mobile everything. Every week it seems there is something new going on there and librarians are sure talking a lot about this direction. One of the most common searches on my blog is for “library apps.” In this regard, it’s nice to see that some of the database vendors are building mobile platforms-- hopefully others will follow suit. The danger here is that we might be more excited and driven to develop mobile services then our patrons—it’s important that we keep the tech-lust in check.

eBook Readers is another trendy area. Many libraries are dabbling with them, but it will be interesting to see what happens when Kindles are $50 and eBooks drop below $5 each. We need to be ready for that surge. We need to provide content to the reading device that emerges.

In terms of looking ahead: I’ve very intrigued by the idea cloud-based ILSs and I’m a fan of the Google Books project.

JMJ: Can you give me an idea of what new programs your library is implementing in order to improve both student and faculty experiences?

BM: We’re in the initial stages of a renovation and new addition. Construction is scheduled to start early 2012. That’s were our main messaging is heading. On one side we’re letting students and faculty know what’s going on and what to expect, but we’re also gathering there feedback on what we need to build and how we can tweak services and collections. We going to be heading into a cocoon of sorts for a few years and hopefully emerge as a more user-driven organization.

I’ve also been working on a diplomacy exercise in which I’ve asked our frontline staff a series of questions and then ask our patrons similar questions to see where we match up and what we need to work on. Hopefully this will help move us into being more sensitive and effective.

Link here:

In terms of marketing, we are about to launch a big external campaign around campus. Most of us focus on reaching people who are in our buildings but I want to extend that message beyond the walls of the library or even the classroom. I’m hoping we can build some good word of mouth this next year.
JMJ: What are the keys for career advancement in the university library world?
BM:I really want to see project management skills. That’s what I’ll be looking for in the next librarian I hire. I want to see that they can develop their own ideas and/or build upon other’s and carry a project through to the end. I guess you can say initiative is critical. I tend to have my hands in a lot of projects and so I need librarians who are creative and driven and open to experimentation, but also super conscious of deadlines. When I’m around a bunch of ambitious people it ramps up my productivity so that’s who I want to surround myself with.

Earlier in my career I thought that writing articles and giving talks and just doing my job well was enough, but if you’re talking about “advancement” then “improvement” is the keyword. How can you improve what your library does? Whether you’re in cataloging and you implement some type of mobile widget or you’re in public services and launch a new instruction series, people who advance the library are people who advance in their careers. Those are the people who inspire me.

JMJ:  What challenges have you faced writing this book?

The biggest challenge I’m facing this time around is simply the demands of my job. Over the past year I’ve moved into administration and so the skill set is entirely different. I’ve had a lot to learn. I’ve also turned inward trying to understand how I can best help my library and my university, that’s my number one focus. I spend a lot of time writing emails and drafting documents so it leaves little energy for book writing or the creative process. This book is being written in spurts.

I’m also about to become a father in February so that’s a whole new learning experience as well. It’s a pretty incredible time in my life and hopefully that will come across in this book.